BY CHRIS CROWDER
I have held this Carl Phillips quote close to my heart since the moment I read it: “…Poetry’s not a box for storing unexamined experience, but a space instead—a field, really—within which to examine experience and to find that the more we examine it the more we’re surprised or disturbed by what we see, things that don’t go away…”
This message from Phillips—our 2021 Adroit Prize for Poetry judge—emerged from an interview with Rick Barot in The Paris Review, and came to mind constantly as I read through the dazzling and thoughtful works in Issue 39 of The Adroit Journal. These poems, stories, and works of art are vulnerable in their introspection and specific in their world-building. And I think as you dive into these artists’ work, you’ll discover new ways of thinking, learn different approaches to tell the truth, and feel seen.
I believe the aforementioned qualities are in some way connected to honesty. That’s one of the many things I admire from the speaker of Sharon Lin’s “Diasporic,” who reminds me of how, in the field of a poem, memory and the act of creating sentences may collide:
to make up a life when you’re
looking for a story. I tell my class during
show-and-tell, these shells were from
my mother’s dowry, not mollusks I plucked
off the beach […]
Lin’s unpacking of a moment, of thinking, reminds me of how Paul Tran writes “The Law of Motion” in three sections, using the clauses of Newton’s first law as headings. And the way the poem moves through the speaker’s past and meditations on being is redefining the word inertia itself.
You will read poems that cement the reader in time and place, such as Ngoc Pham’s “How To Tell It’s Winter In Vietnamese,” which has moments like “You tell winter in words frayed and fizzled. Mùa Đông: / Frozen season. Time atrophied, / Tender as your dead grandfather’s gloves.” The same goes for Kyle Wang’s “The Age of Discovery.” There are poems that name and traverse through their own worlds, too, like the Kingdom of the Imperfect in Amy Woolard’s “Thrift” and the pixel world of Jackson Neal’s “Tentacle Porn.”
Alongside capturing a setting, there’s also incredible attention to detail and character. Aidan Forster’s “Laocoön” takes place at The Eternal Fire, He Is Risen Pentecostal Church and the surrounding area, displaying how much depth exists in people, our relationships, our conventions, and the ways we protect ourselves. Sofia Montrone’s “Baby” draws you into the life of the titular character with considerations like the interesting things on the Costco shelves or what Baby’s old bike used to look like.
There’s future-dreaming, thankfulness, and perseverance in many pieces, such as Julian Guy’s “There Is A Future” and Jonny Teklit’s “Praise Song.” In Andrew Grace’s story “Farm League,” the characters play baseball “when the wind blew so hard it made the stones weep.” And Matilda Lin Berke, in “Valley of the Myrtles,” writes:
Looking back, perhaps
I could have been anyone—
a ferryboat captain, an unworldly guide—
we invent characters through which to reach each other.
I wish that you will feel that something in this issue is speaking to you. There are incredible interviews in our Enlightenments section as well, including our managing editor Dolapo Demuren speaking with Desiree C. Bailey or Adroit content intern Divya Mehrish’s conversation with Jacques J. Rancourt. The visual art, featuring work like So Eun Kim’s “Beyond The Border,” is all magnificent.
This edition of Adroit also congratulates and features the winners and finalists of The Adroit Prizes. Judge Carl Phillips awarded the 2021 Adroit Prize for Poetry to Stephanie Chang for “Lotus Flower Kingdom” and chose Delilah Silberman as runner-up. Judge Samantha Hunt awarded the 2021 Adroit Prize for Prose to Enshia Li for “Watching The Voice of China with My Mother at 13” and selected Amal Haddad as runner-up. These high school and college students are amazing. The works in this issue have profoundly moved and wowed me.
Join us in discovery and wonder as we enter this marvelous field of language.
Chris Crowder is a poet from Flint, Michigan. He is a Zell Postgraduate Fellow in the Helen Zell Writers’ program at the University of Michigan. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Best New Poets, TriQuarterly, Zone 3, and the VS podcast.
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